Friday, 12 June 2009

Summer is here. The bees are busy amongst the poppies and there is a general air of fruitful expectation. There are plenty of herbs to pick as well as rocket, lettuce, peas and artichokes. The garlic has been pulled and is drying in my back garden ready for plaiting.

Red currant and apple compote

In June I am a somewhat impatient gardener eager for crops that are as yet a way off (especially potatoes and courgettes), roaming around the garden looking out for things I can pick when what I should really be doing is pulling weeds.

Peas are here a little earlier (early June) but I can never seem to grow a decent amount of them. Far more successful are the red currants. I may have only one bush but its prolific bunches of shiny red berries are a very welcome sight. If you find that they arrive just at the time when you have neither the inclination or time to make redcurrant jelly and even a tart is beyond you then, in this case, a compote is the perfect solution.

Red currants are a little tart on their own but go well when combined with thinly sliced apple and a few strawberries. You can eat it with yoghurt but I like to have it on my porridge in the morning.

2 small or one large dessert apples (a good way of using up any apples that are getting a little floury)
approx 300g
350g red currants (destalked)
75g (about 8) strawberries hulled
2-3 tbsps sugar (approx. 20-30g)
2 tbsp water
Juice of half a lemon

Peel and slice the apples thinly. Place in a medium sized heavy bottomed pan and add the sugar and water. Squeeze over the lemon half. Simmer very gently (about 5-8 minutes) until the apple is soft. Sprinkle over the berries and cook for another 3 minutes or so until the fruit is soft. Taste and add a little more sugar if you think it needs it. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature.

Red Currant (Ribes Sylvestre)

Opinion is divided on whether or not this is a native plant but as birds eat the berries and drop the seeds willy nilly, they proliferate in the wild. Writing in his Herball in 1548, William Turner, the father of English botany, describes it as the raisin tree (it also goes by the name of wine berry) which gives a clue, says Geoffrey Grigson in his Englishman's Flora to Red Currants and Black Currants. Early cultivated plants became known as small raisins or currants in the Middle Ages and in those day currants were 'Courantz' Greek raisins from Corinth. Other Sixteenth century names are 'Bastard Corinths' or 'Red Gooseberries'.

Jane Grigson (cookery writer and Geoffrey's wife) notes how red currants gleam in candle light. For those looking for a tart recipe she has a wonderful sounding recipe for burnt cream tart in her Fruit Book, in which cream and fruit are trapped beneath a layer of caramelised sugar.

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